Dismissal Motion Denied in Massive Citigroup Subprime-Related Bondholder Action

Dismissal Motion Denied in Massive Citigroup Subprime-Related Bondholder Action

On July 12, 2010, in one of the more high-profile investor actions filed as part of the subprime securities litigation wave, Southern District of New York Judge Sidney Stein substantially denied in part the defendants' motions to dismiss in the Citigroup Bond Litigation. A copy of the opinion can be found here.

As detailed in greater detail here, Citigroup bondholders first filed their suits in September 2008 in connection with 48 different Citigroup bond offerings in which Citigroup raised over $71 billion between May 2006 and August 2008. (The first of these cases was filed in New York state court but later removed to federal court.) The defendants include the company itself and related corporate entities, as well 28 current or former Citigroup directors and officers and nearly eighty investment banks that served as offering underwriters in the bond offerings.

The plaintiffs, who purchased bonds in some of the offerings, alleged that the defendants had violated sections 11, 12 and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933 by failed to truthfully and fully disclose in the bond offering documents information concerning the company's exposure to "toxic mortgage-linked documents."

Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Citigroup had failed to disclose Citigroup's exposure to $66 billion worth of CDOs backed by subprime mortgage assets; Citigroup's exposure to $100 billion in structured investment vehicles backed by subprime mortgage assets; that Citigroup "materially understated reserves" held for residential loan losses; Citigroup's exposure to $11 billion of auction rate securities; that as result of these exposures, Citigroup was not, contrary to its representations, "well capitalized" and in fact required a massive government bailout.

In his July 12 order, Judge Stein first held that the plaintiffs had standing to assert claims in connection with all of the 48 offerings, even though plaintiffs had not purchased bonds in all offerings. Because the offerings were based common shelf registration document containing at least some common information, he found that the plaintiffs have standing to assert claims common to all purchasers.

But while he found that the plaintiffs has standing to assert Section 11 claims, he granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiffs' Section 12 for lack of standing, based on the insufficiency of plaintiffs' allegations about whom the plaintiffs bought their investments from.

The centerpiece of the defendants' dismissal motions was their argument that the plaintiffs had failed to allege any actionable misstatement or omission. Judge Stein found that that the plaintiffs' had adequately alleged misrepresentation or omission as to Citigroup's CDO exposure; with respect to plaintiffs' allegations about Citigroup's SIV exposure, at least with respect to statements made after those exposures were consolidated on Citigroup's balance sheet; plaintiffs' allegations about the adequacy of Citigroup's residential mortgage loan loss reserves; with respect to Citigroup's statements about the adequacy of its capitalization; and with respect to Citigroup's statements that its financials were GAAP compliant.

However, Judge Stein also found that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently alleged misrepresentation or omission in connection with their allegations concerning Citigroup's SIV exposure, at least those made prior to the consolidation of the SIV assets onto Citigroup's financial statements; and about Citigroup's exposure to auction rate securities.

Thus while a portion of plaintiffs' claims did not survive defendants' dismissal motions, a substantial portion of plaintiffs' case will be going forward.

Both because of Citigroup's prominence and because of the sheer magnitude of dollars involved in this case, this is a high profile decision. Though there is definitely a school of thought that defendants are faring better on the subprime securities cases in general, the plaintiffs are still managing to get some cases past the initial pleading hurdles, particularly in many of the highest profile cases (e.g., Countrywide, New Century, Washington Mutual, etc.).

In addition, Judge Stein's decision in the Citigroup Bondholders case is the latest of several recent rulings in subprime related securities cases in the Southern District of New York that have favored the plaintiffs, including the recent decisions in the Ambac Financial subprime related case (about which refer here) and in the CIT Group subprime related securities case (about which refer here).

I have in any event added the July 12 decision in the Citigroup Bondholders' suit to my running tally of subprime related securities class action lawsuit dismissal motion ruling, which can be accessed here.

Andrew Longstreth's July 12, 2010 Am Law Litigation Daily article about the decision can be found here. A July 12, 2010 Bloomberg article about the decision can be found here.

Special thanks to a loyal reader for providing a copy of the opinion.

Read other items of interest from the world of directors & officers liability, with occasional commentary, at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.